After mentioning on Twitter that I had never tasted snails, David Walker (Sales Director for Dorset Snails) invited me along to their processing unit to try them for myself!! After checking with East Dorset Foodie (on her patch!) I headed over to Holton Heath to investigate the production of these molluscs!
Dorset Snails is a real family affair, his son Tony is Managing Director, his wife, daughter and daughter in-law all work in the business. It is split between two bases, the farm is in deepest East Dorset and the processing unit in a Holton Heath industrial estate!
(photo courtesy of Dorset Snails)
David & his wife used to produce worms for fishing and the bi-product was garden fertiliser. But in 2006 after an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s F-Word interviewing the owner of a Devon Snail Farm, a plan was ‘hatched’! They attended a course run by the Devon Farm (now closed) and decided to switch from worms to snails!
They imported some breeder snails in from Serbia, these were Helix Maxima and for the first two years these were there product. After hearing from a chef that the Helix Muller had much better flavour they then concentrated on producing these as well. But it wasn’t easy and took them around 6 years of trial and error to work out the process of producing high quality snails throughout the year. They are now the only fresh snail producer in the country and are now selling over 12,000 snails a week, mostly to high end restaurants around the country, but increasingly to local butchers, fishmongers and deli’s. You can also buy them direct from their website www.dorsetsnails.co.uk.
To prepare the snails ready for consumption, they are first purged ie. starved until they are empty, then they are stored for a month in a fridge. This helps them to loose a lot of water content and also sends them into hibernation.
Then boiled for a minute or two, rinsed under cold water and they are then removed from their shells. Once graded to size, they get a good rinse in vinegar & salt to remove the slime!
They are then placed into vacuum packs with butter & parsley ready to be cooked for 2 1/2 hours! You can buy them uncooked or ready cooked, plain or all ready to be grilled in fancy shells from France with lashings of garlic butter..
They kindly gave me a box of 12 snails to try for myself and would be cooked in my wood fired oven the next day. I fired up my oven and once suitably hot I placed the snails in, I must say the smell of them cooking was gorgeous and once cooked carried them into the kitchen to try them. I was first to go, first impressions were good, lots of garlic butter then the snail flavour & texture. Which wasn’t displeasing, just not to my taste and I stopped at one snail! My wife & son also only managed one, but my daughter in-law, who had eaten snails before said they were the best snails she had ever tasted and finished the lot!!
If snails are your thing, my daughter in-law highly recommends Dorset Snails (but I still have to be convinced!!) It is a fantastic family run business in Dorset producing high quality snails. If you are a chef, restaurant owner, butcher, fishmonger, deli owner or just like cooking them at home, it is well worth checking out their products on their website or give David a call..
t: 01202 875777
m: 07980 147 073